Almond Biscotti with Orange Zest and Fennel

I’m told that biscotti means to bake twice. That is how these delicious cookies get their satisfying crunch. This is another great one to give as a gift. They will last for weeks.

1 cup whole almonds
3 cups flour, plus flour for work surface
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
zest from one orange
2 teaspoons almond extract


  • Bake almonds 10 minutes at 350° F, let cool, roughly chop and set aside.
  • Sift together the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder into a large bowl.
  • In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, fennel, orange zest and almond extract.
  • Mix to incorporate the ingredients; the dough will be a little sticky.
  • Flour your hands and a clean kitchen surface and lightly knead the dough. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper. Form the dough into two large logs. The loaves should be relatively flat, only about half an inch high and three to four inches wide.
  • Bake for 20 to 22 minutes at 350º F, until the center is firm to the touch.
  • Let biscotti cool for 15 minutes and then, using a serrated knife, cut into 1 inch wide pieces.
  • Turn the oven down to 300º F and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes or until crisp. Cool completely.
  • Let sit uncovered overnight in a dry space.

Makes about 36 small biscotti.

Maple Pralines (without white sugar)

If you are in Louisiana, you call these “praw-leens.” I’m from Virginia with parents from Georgia and Alabama and I say “pray-leens,” which makes my husband wince. Originally from France and made with almonds, these addictive treats are ubiquitous in the French Quarter. There, they most certainly say “praw-leens.”

I’m on a bit of a no refined white sugar kick. That certainly doesn’t mean that I’m not eating anything sweet! I’ve been substituting maple syrup and honey whenever I can. Using maple syrup is not a free license to scarf the whole batch. Each candy contains about 65 calories, so don’t go overboard like I did. I made a batch to send to my sister-in-law for her birthday. After I got through my “quality control” tasting, I realized there wasn’t much left! Oops.

The New Orleans style pralines are made with pecans, but substitute other nuts if you like. You’ll need a candy thermometer for this. You can pick up one at a kitchen supply store or, if your grocery store has a kitchen tool section, you can often find them there. I saw one the other day for $7.

Click here for a maple turtle recipe.

1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup of pecans, chopped
1/8 teaspoon sea salt


  • Combine the cream, butter and maple syrup in the saucepan. Stir until well mixed.
  • Cook over medium heat. You may gently swish sauce, but don’t stir. Heat until temperature reaches 240º F, 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and lightly grease it.
  • Remove saucepan from the heat and let the mixture stand for a couple of minutes. Stir in pecans.
  • Drop small spoonfuls of mixture onto parchment. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Cool. Eat, yum!

Makes 18.

Maple Turtles (without white sugar)

Recently, I was very happy to discover that you can make caramel using maple syrup and no refined white sugar. Yippy!

I also found out that the only different between my maple turtles and my maple pralines, is in the stirring. When you stir caramel, it crystallizes and changes the texture. If you don’t stir, it remains smooth.

You’ll need a candy thermometer for this.

1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup of pecans or walnuts
1/8 teaspoon sea salt


  • Combine the cream, butter and maple syrup in the saucepan. Stir until well mixed.
  • Cook over medium heat. You may gently swish sauce, but don’t stir. Heat until temperature reaches 245° F, 10 to 15 minutes.
  • While the mixture is heating, line a sheet pan with parchment paper and lightly grease it.
  • Arrange pecans or walnuts in groups of three or four on the lined sheet pan.
  • Remove saucepan from the heat.
  • Drop small spoonfuls of caramel over the pecans. It will spread, so do a little at a time. You can go back and add more caramel once the first spoonful has set. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Cool. Eat, yum!

Makes 18.

Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons are my new favorite things. They are much lemonier than a regular lemons and have a mildly tart and lightly salty taste. They are traditionally used in Moroccan cuisine but I’ve been throwing them into about everything from soup to birthday cakes!

This recipe is modified from


5 organic lemons (use myers lemons if you can find them)
1/4 -1/2 cup salt
Freshly squeezed lemon juice (you may need a little extra)

1-quart mason jar


  • Cut 1/4 inch off the tip of each lemon. Quarter the lemons from the top to within 1/2 inch of the bottom (keep the lemon attached at the base). Sprinkle salt inside the lemon.
  • Place 1 tablespoon salt on the bottom of a 1-quart mason jar. Add a couple of lemons and pack down. Sprinkle with salt, then add more lemons. Press the lemons down to release their juices. Once all the lemons are added and pressed, if there isn’t enough lemon juice to completely cover the lemons. Add more.
  • Set the lemons in a warm place and shake the jar each day to distribute the salt and juice.
  • Let stand for 30 days, yep, one month. Remember, patience is a virtue.
  • Rinse each lemon before use.
  • Preserved lemons will keep for up to a year. I keep mine in the fridge but apparently they are fine at room temperature.

Spicy Hot Chocolate Mix

hotchocolateThis makes a great winter gift by itself, or you can wrap it up with a couple of cute mugs. Add some homemade marshmallows for a real treat.

2 1/4 cups cocoa powder
2 1/4 cups semi sweet chocolate (chips or chunks)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon (or more) cayenne pepper (Note: I use 1 teaspoon for a rather spicy brew)


  • If using chocolate chunks, grate into fine pieces. This can be done with a knife or with the grater attachment on your food processor. If using chocolate chips, skip this step.
  • Place all ingredients in food processor and blend. (Note, you can also just mix this by hand.)
  • Divide into three 2-cup portions.

Makes three gifts.

Instructions to include with the gift:
Add 1/4 cup hot chocolate mix to each cup of milk.
Stir, heat, then drink.

Go to to download a pdf gift tag with instructions to include with the gift.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

I love finding recipes for things that I thought you could only buy in a store. I especially love them when they are easy and better than what you can usually find. All you need to make vanilla extract is a few vanilla beans, vodka and a little time to steep.

You can find whole vanilla beans in gourmet or health food stores that have a good spice section. You can also buy them online. I used three Madagascar Vanilla Beans (touted as the world’s best) that our friends Suzanne and Paul gave us.

Here’s how to make it:
-2-3 vanilla beans; slice them down the middle length-wise
-Place them in a jar
-Add 1 to 2 cups of vodka (enough to cover the beans); I also added a half a cup of bourbon (ymmm)
-Cover tightly and store in a dark cabinet
-Shake every couple of days
You will see the color start to change in a day or two. In about two weeks, the extract will be ready to use. Strain if desired, but the longer the beans steep, the better the vanilla. I don’t strain mine.

Simple, right?

You can keep the same vanilla beans going for years. Just keep topping off with more vodka. Pretty cool.

Start a bottle now and have it in time for your holiday baking. Add a pretty ribbon and you got yourself a dandy homemade gift.

Spicy Mustard

In the next three blog entries, I’m going to cover the trifecta of condiments– mayo, ketchup and mustard.

I’ll start with mustard because it’s super easy. You just need mustard seeds or mustard powder, water, a little vinegar and a blender. The rest is optional.

My friends Ellen, Christine and I made mustard for gifts one year. With three cooks adding various things, we came up with an interesting, delicious combination. Too bad we’ll never be able to replicate that recipe.

This time, I took notes.

I threw in ground flax seed (omega 3) and turmeric, (an anti-inflammatory) because I like sneaking healthy things in wherever I can.

This is spicy mustard. If you want it less spicy, add less whole mustard seeds, more vinegar and more honey.

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 tablespoons of brown mustard seeds
2 tablespoons of dry mustard powder
1/4 cup of water
1 teaspoon of sea salt (or more to taste)
2 tablespoons of honey or sugar (or more to taste)
2 tablespoons of lemon juice, vinegar or wine (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon of turmeric (optional)
1 tablespoon of ground flax seed (optional)
1-2 tablespoons of whey (optional)

Soak the mustard seeds for a few hours (or overnight)
Place all ingredients in the blender and blend until it looks like mustard.
That’s it.

It will be quite spicy and maybe even a little bitter at first. It will take a few days for the flavor to fully develop and for the spice to mellow.

Store in the refrigerator in a glass jar. The mustard should keep for several months. It’s getting to be BBQ season and my husband IS the 2008 Hot Dog Eating Champion of Columbia County, so our jar might not make it through May.

Maple Marshmallows

My friend Virginia asked me if I had ever made marshmallows. She was looking for marshmallows without “all that junk” the store- bought varieties have and didn’t want to shell out 10 bucks for the artisanal ones. I hadn’t made them before, but Fairlight, the awe-inspiring baker at Otto’s Market, makes them about every week. She assured me that they were easy, so I decided to give them a whirl.

Even though corn syrup was invented in 1882 (so it falls within my 19th century ingredient criteria), I decided to use maple syrup instead. I also tried a batch substituting honey for the syrup. I thought the honey flavor was over-powering. You can substitute corn syrup or use any combination of syrups. I have some Steen’s cane syrup I want to try next.

Historically, marshmallows were made from the marsh mallow root, which has properties similar to gelatin. I would love to try to make them using the root, but today I’ll keep it simple.

You’ll need a candy thermometer and a stand mixer. You could use a hand mixer but you’ll need to hold it for about 15 minutes. Marshmallows have been being made since before the invention of electricity, so I suppose you could also use a whisk and get a good forearm workout.

I used these sites for references:
Cooking for Engineers (love this site!), Martha Stewart and this nifty blog, Brownie Points (this site has a nice pdf of a recipe).

4 envelopes unflavored gelatin (one box)
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups cornstarch (or powdered sugar)


1. Line 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with parchment paper, be sure the sides are covered with the paper. Lightly oil it then generously coat with cornstarch or powdered sugar. Fairlight suggests using cornstarch if you plan to store them for any length of time.

2. Put 3/4 cup of water into a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin into the water and set aside to let soften (this is called blooming the gelatin, which must be named after Mr. Oscar Bloom who invented a device for measuring the rigidity of gelatin).

3. Put sugar, maple syrup, salt, and 3/4 cup water into a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar.

4. Once the sugar is dissolved, cook, without stirring, until mixture registers 238º F on a candy thermometer, about 9 minutes.

5. Using a whisk attachment on your mixer, start to mix the blooming gelatin. With the mixer on low, slowly add the hot syrup to the gelatin mixture. Remember that stuff is 238º F so be careful!

6. After you have all of the hot syrup mixed in, gradually raise the speed to high. Beat until the mixture is very stiff, about 11 minutes.

7. Pour into the prepared dish and smooth with a lightly oiled spatula. Leave uncovered until firm (about 3 hours but overnight is ok).

8. Sift cornstarch (or powered sugar) on a cutting board. Turn the marshmallows onto the board. Dust a pizza cutter or knife with cornstarch and cut them into 1 inch squares (bigger or smaller if you want).

9. Toss the squares in cornstarch (or confectioners’ sugar). Be sure they are well coated. They will be very sticky if they aren’t. Store in an airtight container for several weeks.

Hot chocolate anyone?

Cinnamon Tincture and Liqueur

I love cinnamon. I put it in everything I can get away with, including a sprinkle in my coffee every morning. Turns out, not only is cinnamon delicious, it’s also good for you.

This blog entry is from herbalist extraordinaire, Kate Temple-West of Friendly Herbalist. She’s much better suited to talk about the virtues of cinnamon. Thanks, Kate! Be sure to check out her site at: She plans to start a blog soon, so stay tuned.

From Kate:
Cinnamon is a delicious warming spice with many culinary and medicinal uses. It is excellent for circulation, and is especially helpful for people with perpetual cold hands and feet. In both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda it is used to ward off colds. It is diaphoretic, (opens the pores and helps you to sweat), which helps to remove toxins and other impurities from the body. It is anti-bacterial, helps to regulate blood sugar, is pain relieving, promotes digestion, and eases muscle tension. It is astringent (drying), and is helpful in cases of diarrhea by sprinkling it on top of a stewed green apple. It makes a good mouth wash for bleeding gums. Needless to say these facts are no substitute for a doctor, but they are still useful to know in a pinch, since pretty much everyone has some cinnamon powder in their kitchen somewhere.

Click here for the recipe>>

Homemade Maple Granola

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve been seeing granola recipes all over the place. One of my favorite food magazines, EatingWell had one in their October issue. Martha Stewart had one in her November issue. My sister and good friends Ellen and Christine have all been making it. Who am I to buck the trend? Especially when it is so darn good.

Granola also makes a nice gift (see a recurring theme here?)…and it’s cheap. What more could you want?

My sister makes granola in her crock-pot slow-cooker. Click here for a recipe.

Ellen has a good recipe on her site, Ellen Cooks.

Eating Well has a tasty recipe and includes a pdf gift tag.

Here’s my version. Note, I’m using coconut oil, but if you don’t want to adhere to 19th-century ingredients, you can use canola oil. Canola oil was not used in food until well into the 20th century (1974 in fact).

5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup unsweetened coconut chips or flakes (Click here for using a fresh coconut, something I highly recommend and isn’t as difficult as you’d think)
1/2 cup sliced almonds or other nuts
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup dried fruit
1 Tablespoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 275°F.

2. Combine oats, coconut, almonds, brown sugar, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds in a large bowl.

3.Heat coconut oil until melted, combine with maple syrup, cinnamon, vanilla extract and water in a medium bowl. Pour over the oat mixture; stir until well combined. Spread the mixture into a large roasting pan or large rimmed baking sheet.

4. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir, and bake about 35 minutes more until golden brown and it begins to crisp. It will become more crisp as it cools.

5. Stir in dried fruit. Let cool completely before storing.

Crystallized Ginger & Syrup

Here’s another idea for a homemade gift. You can knock out two gifts with one recipe—crystallized ginger and ginger syrup.

Peel one to two medium sized fresh ginger roots.

Slice into pieces about 1/8 inch thick. You should have about a cup of ginger.

Bring three cups of water and two cups of sugar to boil. Stir until sugar has dissolved.

Add the ginger and turn the heat down. Simmer over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes, until the ginger is tender and translucent. Be sure to watch it. If the heat is too high, the syrup can burn quickly.

Drain all but about a tablespoon of the syrup (be sure to keep the syrup!). Return ginger to pan and heat while constantly stirring until all the water evaporates.

Remove from heat and toss with a cup of sugar.

Place ginger on wax paper and let cool. Be sure to separate the pieces or you’ll have a giant ginger blob.

Store in an airtight container and keep at room temperature.

Crystallized ginger is tasty in most baked goods. Epicurious has a slew of recipes.

Keep the syrup refrigerated. Add a splash of it to tea or any beverage you want to spice up.

Ginger martinis anyone?

Papaya Peppercorns

My friend Bill once told me that I would have made a great pioneer; I sometimes like to do things the hard way and I don’t like to see anything go to waste. That’s why I was excited to learn that you can use the seeds from a papaya. You can scoop them out and eat them fresh. They are sort of like a caper (though not pickled, but pickling them is an idea). They are spicy and slightly pungent.

You can also turn them into peppercorns. I thought this was very cool. The ground papaya seeds’ taste is hard to distinguish from regular black pepper. It’s easy to make and is an exotic pepper alternative.

Scoop out the seeds from a fresh papaya.
Place in warm water and work with hands to remove pulp.
Let soak overnight.
Bake for at 170 (or at the lowest temperature your stove will go) for 60 minutes or until the seeds are hard.
Cool, then place in a pepper grinder and use as you would pepper.

Apparently the seeds have the same good enzymes that the fruit has, so grind away!

Papaya Chutney

A perfectly ripe papaya with lime is a little bit of sunshine in your mouth. Not only that but if you believe the Word’s Healthiest Food Website, it’s a miracle food. It’s packed with antioxidants, vitamin B, carotene; full of digestive enzymes; a good source of fiber; good for your heart; has anti-Inflammatory properties; good for your immune system and your lungs; protects against macular degeneration and rheumatoid arthritis and can be used as a meat tenderizer…how can anyone pass that up?

I noticed huge papayas in the grocery store the other day so I bought one. I admit I felt slightly guilty knowing how far that fruit had to travel, but I swear our farmers market didn’t have any, so I indulged.

chutneyI adapted this recipe from Nourishing Traditions.

3 cups of chopped papaya (you can substitute mango)
1/4 cup of chopped onion
1/2 cup of lime juice
1 Tablespoon of fresh grated ginger
a handful of fresh chopped cilantro (about 1/4 cup; you can also add fresh mint)
1 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup of chopped jalapeno
1/4 cup of chopped roasted red pepper (or regular red pepper)
2 Tablespoons of sugar
1/4 cup of whey

Slice papaya in half, length-wise. Scoop out the seeds and save them.
Scoop out the papaya flesh, leaving the peel.
Mixed all ingredients.
Place in a jar. Slightly pack the ingredients into the jar so that everything is covered with liquid. Add more water if necessary.
Cover tightly and leave at room temperature for two days.
Transfer to the fridge. It should keep for about two months.

You can add papaya chutney to anything- fish, pork, chicken. We topped our shrimp tacos with it last night….ymmmm.